The knowledge of the spatial energy (or power) distribution of light beams reflected at the dynamic sea surface is of great practical interest in maritime environments. For the estimation of the light energy reflected into a specific spatial direction a lot of parameters need to be taken into account. Both whitecap coverage and its optical properties have a large impact upon the calculated value. In published literature, for applications considering vertical light propagation paths, such as bathymetric lidar, the reflectance of sea surface and whitecaps are approximated by constant values. For near-horizontal light propagation paths the optical properties of the sea surface and the whitecaps must be considered in greater detail. The calculated light energy reflected into a specific direction varies statistically and depends largely on the dynamics of the wavy sea surface and the dynamics of whitecaps. A 3D simulation of the dynamic sea surface populated with whitecaps is presented. The simulation considers the evolution of whitecaps depending on wind speed and fetch. The radiance calculation of the maritime scene (open sea/clear sky) populated with whitecaps is done in the short wavelength infrared spectral band. Wave hiding and shadowing, especially occurring at low viewing angles, are considered. The specular reflection of a light beam at the sea surface in the absence of whitecaps is modeled by an analytical statistical bidirectional reflectance distribution function (BRDF) of the sea surface. For whitecaps, a specific BRDF is used by taking into account their shadowing function. To ensure the credibility of the simulation, the whitecap coverage is determined from simulated image sequences for different wind speeds and compared to whitecap coverage functions from literature. The impact of whitecaps on the radiation balance for bistatic configuration of light source and receiver is calculated for a different incident (zenith/azimuth angles) of the light beam and is presented for two different wind speeds.
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